Question from Bill: What is organic wine and does that make it better?
Reply: Hi, Bill. Thanks for writing! This is a really good question because it’s kind of tricky. We’re really talking about two different things here: Organic wine (fairly rare) and organically-grown wine (quite common).
When the label says "organically grown", it means exactly what it says. The term organic applies to the growing of the grapes but doesn’t have anything to do with winemaking. To make this claim, the producer must also identify which certification agency was used, such as "California Certified Organic". I tend to think that when a winery chooses to use organically grown grapes, they’re less likely to do a lot of cellar manipulation like adding oak chips or Mega Purple, but there’s no requirement in that regard.
If you haven’t noticed a lot of labels with the organically grown designation there are two good reasons. One is it takes up a lot of space on the label to not only say “organically grown” but to also list the certifier. The other is that the organic designation has been shown to actually hurt sales in some cases. Isn’t that odd?
Here’s the deal: Organic wine, a different designation, has given organically-grown wine a bad name. Why? Because, sad to say, most organic wine doesn’t taste so great. The difference is that, on top of the organically grown requirement, the "organic wine" label doesn’t allow for sulfur additions during winemaking. And, without a little sulfur the wine loses its fruit and becomes rather dull in a matter of weeks or months.
If you’re asthmatic or react badly to sulfites you should shop for organic wine. You’ll probably have to go online to find it. Since most people don’t care for it, there isn’t much available. And if you’re concerned about sulfites, specifically, you should know that all wine has at least a few parts per million because they occur naturally as a byproduct of the fermentation. But organic wine will likely be the lowest in sulfur. You should also know that wine, in general is low in sulfites compared to the many foods with sulfites (mainly processed foods) – the regulations differ.
To get back to the other half of your question, you’ve probably concluded that organically grown wine doesn’t necessarily taste better than non organic. But, of course, it’s much better for the environment and, probably, more healthful!
I hope that helps!
Keep these great questions coming! Cheers!
From: Nancy Miller <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Fri, Feb 4, 2011 at 5:18 PM